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Step 1 for Out of Control Finances – Disconnect the Autopilot!

I started my private pilot’s license in my 30’s at a small air park north of my home. The thing I loved about learning to fly was, from the start, the student is the one doing the flying. Yes, there is an instructor right beside you in the early stages, but you’re the one in the “right seat”. Guided by the instructor, the student takes the controls and works through a list of skills needed to pilot a plane: take-offs, landings, level flight, turns, stall and spin recovery, etc. etc. To earn a pilot’s wings, the student must ultimately demonstrate his/her proficiency in each of these areas with a flight examiner.
Even though the small planes I flew had a basic autopilot system, learning how to use it wasn’t part of the curriculum. To include it would have defeated the principles being taught i.e. basic aircraft control. A plane knows how to fly itself straight and level but a junior pilot does not. When learning to fly it’s all about the student giving the plane his/her direct attention.


Sadly, autopilot systems have led to many air disasters. Not necessarily because they failed, but because they were misunderstood or used improperly. In times of severe stress, the autopilot can actually lead to cockpit confusion. The lesson from this is that autopilot systems are not a replacement for human intelligence.

The same holds true with money clarity.

I’m often asked if I can recommend a helpful money app. My answer is always the same. No. There are some very creative and interesting apps available. Some are even available for free! If a free app was the solution to our money ills, financial contentment would be the norm in our households. Of course, that’s far from the case. In a May 2017 New York Times article Household Debt Makes a Comeback, it was reported that, in the 1st quarter of 2017, household debt in America surpassed its Q3 2008 level i.e. the beginning of the great recession.

Two-years prior, in a 2015 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, it was found that worries about debt repayment were the leading cause of money stress for Americans. Apparently, even though debt stresses us out, it doesn’t stop us from ramping up the borrowing. A free app isn’t likely to solve this problem. So, what will?

In my experience, people whose money lives are on “autopilot” have out of control spending, stress-inducing debts and deficient savings. My recommendation has nothing to do with an app. It is just the opposite actually – it’s to be like a student pilot and pay attention!

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes attention is an act of connection. When it comes to managing household finances, this observation is right on the money (pun intended). My coaching clients bring attention to, and build connection with, their money lives by learning to think in new ways, by learning new skills and by taking new actions.

So, if you’re struggling with managing money, take my word for it – you can’t outsource money clarity to an app. Instead, direct your attention to learning the basic skills of money management. Then, if you still feel you need an app, go for it. My bet is, you won’t!

Is Your Money Life in the Critical Zone?

Taking stock of where we stand is the first step to any corrective course of action, money included. To help people quickly get a handle on this, I developed a simple two-variable self-assessment. The two variables are:

  1. Is the household spending more than it is earning?
  2. Is consumer debt present (for example, high-interest credit cards, consolidation loans, personal lines of credit)?

Individuals and households that answer “yes” to both questions fall into what I call the Critical Zone. The word critical is defined as having extreme importance, happening at a time of special difficulty, trouble, or danger, when matters could quickly get either worse or better


The definition says it all – when in the Critical Zone we are at a turning point. Things could get better or things could get worse. Life in the Critical Zone is uncomfortable and unsustainable. Still, people can get stuck here for years or even decades. To get an idea if the Critical Zone applies to you, see if any of these apply:

Continual tapping into consumer credit – Credit permits the illusion of maintaining lifestyle while diverting us from facing deeper problems. Prolonged reliance on debt can become such an accepted part of our lives that it becomes a normal financial condition.

Looking to debt as a solution – People in the Critical Zone often believe debt is the solution to their problems which usually serves to extend their stay in the Critical Zone.

No money available for needs and wants – With much of income required to pay basic expenses and overhead, spending on needs and wants either doesn’t happen or is funded through debt. Needs and wants include:

  • Clothes
  • Vacations
  • Hobbies/recreation
  • Car repair
  • Home repair and upgrade
  • Health and dental needs
  • Children’s education savings
  • Retirement savings

It may or may not come as a surprise that a substantial number of households exist in the Critical Zone. In some cases, it’s obvious, in other cases appearances hide the underlying reality. Whichever the case, Critical Zoners typically know who they are. Moreover, they are usually stressed, struggling and without a plan to right their financial ship.

So how do they right the ship? First, understand the key challenges:

Willingness to Face the Situation

People of any age, income, education level and profession can find themselves in the Critical Zone. They arrive here when spending habitually exceeds income. This earning/spending mismatch is the primary problem. If this condition persists, eventually debt starts to accumulate which is a secondary problem i.e. a symptom of the primary problem.

It is common to try exiting the Critical Zone by directing attention to the secondary problem i.e. debt accumulation. This may involve things like home refinancing, debt consolidation, credit card juggling and borrowing from friends and family. While these actions may bring short term relief, they don’t address the primary problem i.e. spending that exceeds income.

Deciding on Which of Two Paths to Follow

Passive Path – Not to take action is a choice. Since we are already at a turning point, inaction leaves us more vulnerable to shocks like job loss, death of partner, injury or illness. All these events will worsen our situation. In short, doing nothing doesn’t usually work out well.

Active Path- Making the choice to leave the Critical Zone is, more than anything else, an act of courage. It is also highly liberating. Voluntary exit from the Critical Zone may seem intimidating because it can require us to make changes in spending and lifestyle, but it is usually the most direct and dignified option.

The Search for Deeper Answers

Critical Zone problems are structural in nature, meaning that expenses/spending relate to things which easily cannot be avoided, reduced or eliminated without major lifestyle changes (debt is the prime example). This is what makes escaping the Critical Zone so vexing i.e. the most obvious expense saving measures (for example, cheaper cell phone plans, shopping, car insurance, etc.) aren’t sufficient to produce a meaningful improvement.

As long as outflows exceed inflows every month, debt will continue to rack up. Eliminating this must be the first priority. Providing a detailed prescription for those who are ready to take action is unique to each household and goes beyond the scope of this article. For all the Critical Zoners that I coach, we eventually brainstorm the following question: What would have to happen in my/our household to eliminate the negative monthly cash flow?

Our financial lives won’t turn on a dime, so it’s important to set realistic expectations. Still, it’s important to know this – with time, patience and creativity almost every aspect of household spending can be altered, lowered or eliminated!

My #1 Money Tip

This post’s title is a proven attention getter. We just can’t resist checking out a hot tip because you can never tell if its going to be a game changer. I’d love to know how many tips actually turn out that way. I’d say close to zero.

I digress. You came here for my #1 tip, so here it is: Money tips don’t work.

This tip earned its way into my #1 spot because so many of the people who have sought out my coaching will say things like, “I get these on-line money tips all the time, but they just confuse me.”

People come to me because they want an effective way to manage money. It would be much easier if they only wanted money tips because I could fire those off in endless volleys. What they are asking for (usually) is a method to get a handle on spending, pay down debt and define a path to financial independence (and ideally get that all done ASAP). Doing that requires more than a few money tips.

To demonstrate the difference between method and tips I’ll use the analogy of car buying. Buying a car implies we are looking for a method of transporting ourselves. Let’s say we settle on model X. In its base form, model X does everything we need to satisfy our need. Buying the base car isn’t usually where things end. Car manufactures graciously offer a menu of options to enhance the enjoyment of our vehicle.

If the car represents method, think of options as tips. In theory, it would be possible to purchase car options as stand alone items. Imagine the interesting collection of goodies we could accumulate: leather wrapped steering wheel, seat warmers, 17′ aluminum wheels, park assist, vanity mirrors, etc., etc. The point is, the car (method) is what gives the options (tips) context. Without the car, the options are useless.


Back to money. To take control, pay down debt and achieve financial independence we need a method. Some people figure this out for themselves while others need a little help. People in the latter group sometimes reach out to me. When they do, acquiring method is the primary goal. Getting that nailed down is a game changer. Still, if they insist, I’ll happily throw in a few tips.

Personal change is difficult, whether it involves losing weight, quitting smoking our taking control of our money. Let’s face it, we could all stand to make some tweaks here or there in our lives but so few of us get around to taking action. When it comes to money, I was recently reminded how quickly movement forward gets stopped in its tracks.

Working on my laptop in a comfy chair one afternoon at the local coffee shop/bookstore a woman sat down in the comfy chair beside me with a stack of 6 or 7 magazines and 5 books. With a satisfied look on her face, she proceeded to wade into her collection.

The magazines were of the glossy fashion, décor, design variety. What peaked my curiosity were the book titles. All 5 books were on cash management/debt repayment. Things like “The Only Budget You’ll Ever Need”, “Building Budgets that Work”, etc. What an eclectic selection of literature I thought to myself. As she started to leaf through the magazines, it was clear she was taking a “pleasure before business approach” to her afternoon reading.

Now I was really curious. How long would it take for her to get to those budget books and how much of her time would she spend going through them? I had to know and I was prepared to wait for my answers.
pexels-photo-256523Through the blur of turning pages, I could see pages of text interspersed with checklists, tables, worksheets; the building blocks of a budget. In a matter of 2 or 3 minutes that book was discarded as she started the same process with the second book. More tables and worksheets. Within 5 minutes she had flipped through 3 of the books. She glanced at the back covers of the last two and moved them directly to the “done” pile. Her coffee was finished and a glance at her watch told me she was ready to move on. Here was the reading time scoreboard:

Glossy magazines: 45 minutes
Budget books: 5 minutes

A colossal loss for the budget side!

At this point I introduced myself as a Money Coach and fessed up that I had been intrigued by what I had watched. I politely inquired if I could ask her some questions. She said yes.

You seemed pretty interested in the magazines, I said, but things really hit a wall when you got to the budget books. Why so little interest in the books? I will never forget her answer “They looked difficult and kind of boring.” Boom! End of story.

That said it all, budgets speak to our heads and have little power to inspire. The resolve needed to take control of our money needs to come from deep within. When I think back on what energized the people I’ve worked with to push through to money clarity, I found it came down to 3 things:

They were ready

Prior to reaching out to me these people fought their demons, fought with each other, experimented with things that didn’t work, experienced the full range of emotions and felt the sting of setback. They had fought the good fight and despite their best intentions they had been denied victory. Now they were surrendering to the reality that they needed help.

They knew the outcome they wanted

They’re not sure what the remedy entails, but they know it can’t be any worse then what they’re experiencing now. Still, that sometimes isn’t enough.

They had a deeper “why”

Knowing the outcome they wanted wasn’t always enough. Sometimes a deeper “why” was needed to trigger change.

In early conversations with new clients, I probe for a deeper motivation, something that tells me the tables have shifted. The question I ask is: You’ve known this was a problem for some time, why have you decided to do something now?”

I find the first answer revealed isn’t always the most potent one. That’s because the real reason can be buried deep within. In fact, it may be that the person has never spoken the real reason. Perhaps it’s scary, perhaps they know things need to change (actually, the change had already begun). In any case, the deeper “why” eventually emerges.

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Here’s the bottom line: knowing exactly what you want may get you started but tapping into a deeper why is what will take you across the finish line.

I Just Dumped My Latte Habit. Here’s Why….


“What can I get for you?” the smiling young woman behind the counter asked. I replied “Tall decaf non-fat latte”. Correcting me with just a hint of arrogance she asks “Decaf tall non-fat latte? I think to myself, after hundreds of visits, they can’t seem to train me. Feeling slightly diminished I answer “Yes”. At the same time, I think back to when I first heard the “He’s a bit of a slow learner” handle I was tagged with in public school. Then I think…maybe she’s right, maybe I am a slow learner. I snap out of it. Oh…right, the woman behind the counter didn’t say that…in so many words, it was a flashback. Happens every time. That’s strike one.

Then she asks “Can I get you anything else today?”. I briefly consider a piece of the lemon loaf but knowing it will drive the cost over $6 bucks, I just answer “No, thank you.” I raise my hand with the coins clearly visible between my fingers dreading what comes next “OK, that will be $3.62.” Now we have a problem. Where am I going to come up with 2 cents? Canada pulled the penny from circulation in 2012. I can’t pay $3.62, it would be illegal. OK, not exactly illegal but certainly impossible. The staff here must know about it …everybody in Canada knows about it. It’s actually a point of pride for Canadians. It’s so quaint to travel to the U.S. and still have to scrounge around for those measly few cents down with the fuzz in the bottom of our pockets. Canadians are done scrounging.

Anyway, back to my tab, I wait for the women to say, “It’s OK $3.60 will do” (the practice in Canada is to round up or down to the nearest 5 cents). But she never does. They never do, not once in the last 3 years. What ensues is an awkward silence during which I think, is she waiting for me to offer $3.65? Darn if I’m going to over-pay. The silence is broken when I say, “Will $3.60 do?” to which she replies “Sure”. I drop the cash into her hand. Still, I feel like a deadbeat. A financial planner and money coach who can’t pay his bill. Couldn’t she just ask for $3.60? That’s strike two.

Late last week the scene started to play out yet again, but this time there was a difference. It went like this “OK, that will be $3.95”. “Excuse me? Say that again”. Being only marginally comfortable paying $3.62 (OK, $3.60) I was momentarily speechless. Regaining my composure, I ask “Wow, did your prices go up?” The young man behind the counter, in a tone that suggested I was the only person who noticed and anyway what’s the big deal replied “Oh…hmm…. ya…sure looks like it” but he wasn’t done … “must be a seasonal increase”. What the heck does that mean?? To me it sounded like “Seasons Greetings! and BTW, as our way of celebrating, the price of your decaffeinated beverage just went up 10%”. Were prices going to come down in January? I didn’t ask. That’s strike three.

I find dropping habits is motivated by a confluence of events. When I quit smoking in the 1980s it was the same: Cigarette prices were going up dramatically, smoking was on the verge of being banned in the workplace and my parents frowned on my smoking in their home (I was living there at the time). The writing on the wall told me I was on the wrong side of the smoking debate. So, I quit.

I’m done with my latte habit too. Just like smoking, a little voice in my head said “It’s time”. It’s lost its allure – something has shifted. No single event but a confluence (haven’t even mentioned how the cookie choices were switched-up a year or so ago…haven’t had one since). The truth is, dropping my afternoon latte is justified on the dollars alone.

Coincidentally, I have been tracking my latte expenditures. Over 30 days I was stunned to see they totaled $51 (before the 10% increase)! Post increase, this would jump to $56+. I’m certainly not the first person to write about how we’ve become slaves to our coffee habit. Which is even more reason for the combination of shock/guilt I felt for having fallen into the coffee trap. Getting back to the numbers, here’s some simple math:

What My Latte Habit Costs

  I year 3 year 5 year 10 year
Earn 0% in the piggy bank $675 $2,025 $3,380 $6,675
Invested @ 4%* $702 $2,866 $4,477 $9,103

*annually compounded

Although I hadn’t done this calculation before making my decision, the results only reinforced my choice. Then came the fun part – what to do with all the money I’ll save? Here are my initial thoughts:

  • 1 year of savings ($702) = New golf club iron set. Every year! No wait, that’s crazy…
  • 1 year of savings ($702) = New golf club iron set PLUS 20 golf lessons every year thereafter

Note to me: Love the idea of that. I may finally get my handicap under 15. Lattes have never done anything for my game.

  • 3 years of savings ($2,866) = 7-day Caribbean cruise for two. Just enough for the cruise part, credit card points will cover the air fare

Note to me: Smart. Cut the wife in on the deal plus all the lattes you can drink on board are free!

  • 5 years of savings ($4,477) = Enough for a new 65” HD flat screen, AV unit & surround system. Perfect, that’s about when the current system will need replacing.

Note to me: When watching an epic action flick, I couldn’t care less about lattes.

  • 10 years of savings ($9,103) = 10 days in a Tuscan villa (room and food). Air on points. Dreamy!

Note to me: Italians seem to prefer espresso over lattes so no conflict there.

As a money coach, I encourage clients to consider their values when setting their spending plans. It was time I took my own advice. If dollars are a limited resource, I prefer any of the options above to my latte habit. In a credit driven world, where financial boundaries are eroded, that’s not how we see things. Many would scoff at concern over a $4 a day habit. The unconstrained sense credit gives us is illusory – now or later the bill must be paid.

At this coffee establishment, digital dollars are the favoured purchasing method and boy do those dollars fly! A quick tap or scan of your card and $14 bucks are gone, yet your wallet feels no lighter. School kids seem to be big buyers. Their parents must be millionaires.

I use cash to pay for the daily minutia of life and I recommend every one give it a try. Research says when cash is used vs credit we spend about 10% (there’s that figure again) less. Using cash makes us more discerning and from what I read in the media these days, we’d all benefit from some of that.

You may see it differently. Just throwing in my 2 cents.

Never Ask For Money Spent…

Never ask for money spent
Where the spender thinks it went
Nobody was ever meant
To remember or invent
What he did with every cent

I love this little poem by Robert Frost. Beside the fact that it rolls off the tongue effortlessly, it also speaks a timeless truth. There’s a false belief that to be more financially responsible means we must account for what we do “with every cent.” I firmly believe that the mere thought of this has served to turn many away from greater money engagement.

Unfortunately, technology has further encouraged this with software and apps that facilitate the backward looking practice of expense tracking. Focusing on what we’ve already done has us faced in the wrong direction. The future’s where it’s at.

I’m all for “knowing our numbers” i.e. what our lives really cost, because in my opinion, most of us don’t. My business has given me a detailed look into the spending of countless households. I’ve learned the routine expenses of our lives, like the gas mileage of our cars, don’t change much over time. By routine expenses, I mean our Fixed Obligations (mortgage payments, utilities, child car, etc.) and Essentials (groceries, gasoline, haircuts, etc.). Years can go by without these changing much, so devoting time to micro-monitoring them isn’t going to yield much benefit.

” Fixed Obligations” and “Essentials” have four things in common;

(i) they account for most of where our money goes
(ii) they mostly arise from past decision, for example the houses we live in, the cars we drive and the children we have
(iii) assuming we don’t want to make any changes in these areas (say for example, like sending the kids back) we’re pretty much on the hook for them

While we might not see it this way, how we manage our “future” spending will have much to do with the quality of our lives. Future spending can be divided into two categories, NEEDS and WANTS:

NEEDS: Retirement, Education Funding, Home & Car Repair, Clothes, Health & Dental Care

WANTS: Holidays & Vacations, Electronics, Entertainment, Dining Out… and so on.

Here’s an insight; without conscious decision making, NEEDS and WANTS are the things that deplete our savings, get stacked up on our credit cards/lines of credit or go unfunded entirely. They account for much of our spending but little of our planning. If you want to focus on one area of your finances, make it the future. I authored my own poem to drive this point home:

Worry not about each spent cent
For a money-life you won’t resent
What’s in your past is gone and dead
And should not reside inside your head
So plan ahead and please be brave
The future holds the things you crave
(With apologies to Robert Frost)

It’s Thanksgiving! What Are We Thankful For Again?

When I was a kid, Christmas was my favourite holiday by miles. Of course I still enjoy it, but the 2 month run up to Christmas has become such a slog that it’s hard not to be exhausted when the actual day arrives. I think that’s partly why things have shifted for me in favour of Thanksgiving. I am thankful that it’s free of entanglements, such that no group can claim sovereignty over it. This makes Thanksgiving an inclusive occasion to be enjoyed by people of any religion, ethnicity or social group.

Canadian Thanksgiving is very different than the U.S. version. U.S. Thanksgiving, positioned just 4 weeks before Christmas, is now largely seen as the official kick-off to the Xmas shopping season. Too often Norman Rockwellesq images of U.S .Thanksgiving have been replaced by grainy, closed-circuit video of crowds scuffling for discounted flat screen TVs at 12:01 am on Black Friday. U.S. Thanksgiving has evolved into Thanksgetting.

Unlike so many of the other holidays, Canadian Thanksgiving doesn’t put a heavy strain on our wallets. That’s partly due to where it sits on the calendar. Situated half way between Labour Day and Christmas, Thanksgiving is in a perfect, time-spaced oasis. Other than food stores stocked with turkeys and pies, Thanksgiving is a retail non-event. Our placement of Thanksgiving just a couple of weeks ahead of Halloween should also get some credit. Halloween, being largely a special day for children, has drawn much of the commercial interest away from Thanksgiving. Freed from a commercial agenda, Thanksgiving doesn’t require us to “do” anything. Instead, it’s a time for “being”, a rarity these days. When I think of “being”, the concept of values comes to mind.

As a Money Coach, I invite my clients to identify their most closely held values. This causes some to ask; what do values have to do with money? My answer is that our values represent the things that matter to us most. When we’re clearer on what those values are, we’re better able to connect them with how we expend our limited supply of money and time. After some coaching, people’s core values begin to emerge, which typically include things like; family, health, peace, sanctuary and abundance.

This brings me back to Thanksgiving. Nestled in the calm pocket of mid-fall, free of hyperbole, beneath the radar of commercialism, Thanksgiving affords us the space to reflect on our most deeply held values. If we’re fortunate, those values will be evident in the things that surround us; family, health, peace, sanctuary, and abundance. In case you need reminding, these are the things worthy of our thanks.

Are You Hitting Your Braking Points?

Life presents an endless series of twists and turns for us to negotiate. They range in size, importance and frequency and they’re often unwelcome. While we might not see it immediately, they almost always have a money implication. How we contend with these transitions goes a long way towards our degree of satisfaction and harmony in life. Strangely enough, the world of auto racing may have something to teach us here.

The perfect cornerAuto races are often won or lost by how drivers handle the turns because that’s where much of the passing takes place. Drivers know that to win, they need to find the “racing line” through the turns. Experienced drivers know the racing line depends on the characteristics of the car, the cornering strategy, and the conditions. In other words, every driver has to plan her own line through each turn. Anticipation and balance are the key ingredients.

To assist drivers, markers are placed alongside the track to indicate the remaining distance to upcoming corners. Through practice, drivers use these markers to establish their “braking points”. Braking markers are a reminder to act.

To pass in a corner, opponents engage in a high risk contest to “out brake” each other. Time it perfectly and they overtake their opponent. Wait too long and they risk running into the weeds, or worse, the wall. In racing, a perfectly negotiated corner is artistry, a true thing of beauty.

Kind of sounds like life doesn’t it? As I see it, the difficulties we have negotiating the turns of our lives often arise because we miss the braking markers. Here are some examples:

  • An annoying noise coming from somewhere under the hood of our car
  • Feeling pain in our chests or arms
  • The smell of smoke
  • Recurring arguments with loved ones
  • Dandruff

In the realm of money, the markers we ignore include:

  • Debts that don’t reduce
  • Savings that don’t increase
  • The need to retire somewhere in our future
  • Our children’s eventual need for secondary education funding
  • Recurring arguments with loved ones

In life, unlike on race tracks, our braking markers can be hard to detect. That’s problematic because missed braking points have the potential to turn into breaking points. Sometimes, the best thing to do is anticipate the coming transition, take our foot off the gas and apply some brake. If we’re lucky we’ll maintain our balance, avoid the wall and put ourselves in position to accelerate smoothly down the road until of course, we hit the next turn.

Are you missing any braking points in your life?






My Top Money Coaching Tip – Be a Slacker!

slackingHave you ever noticed that when something is lacking in your life, for example money or time, it gets your attention? Often we respond to this by focusing on solving whatever is causing the shortage. You could think of this as a benefit of scarcity, which it is…in the short run. As it turns out though, once caught in the trap of scarcity, it can be difficult to escape.

Sendil Mullainathan, a Harvard economist professor and Eldar Shafir a Princeton psychology professor, the co-authors of the new book Scarcity – Why Having Too Little Means So Much, have an explanation for this and a solution.

Drawing on research, the authors show that when something is scarce in our lives, whether we like it or not, it captures our attention. They go on to argue that this has two important outcomes: First; by capturing our attention, scarcity zaps our mental capacity which can shave as much as 10 -12 points off our I.Q.! Second; they show that with reduced capacity our ability to make decisions and control impulses is hindered. Taken together these affects create what the authors call the scarcity tax (just what we need, another tax!) which actually serves to create more scarcity.

It’s common to think that scarcity of money only affects people living on the poverty line, but that’s not so. Scarcity, defined as “an insufficient supply of something” is a relative condition. It affects people living on the poverty line and people with good incomes alike. The difference is that the latter group have more options available to end their scarcity.

Thankfully, the authors also have a solution to the problem of scarcity, which they call slack. Think of slack as a reserve or cushion. Here’s an example of how that could work with money, that most can relate to; In November and December we buy Christmas gifts, often on credit cards. When January arrives so does the credit card bill accompanied by a tinge of money scarcity. Some are able to wriggle out of the problem but many get caught in the scarcity trap.

Here’s how slack can help. Let’s say that in March we open a savings account specifically for Christmas gifts. Every month we put, say $125 in that account so that by November it has a balance of $1,125. With no credit card hangover, imagine how this would change the experience of Christmas shopping. From scarcity and stress to abundance and joy!

Of course, we could do exactly the same for other places that cause havoc in our finances, for example, vacations, car repair and clothes. In fact, in my coaching programs (and my own personal finances) that’s exactly what we do. For those who create slack in their money lives, the feelings of money scarcity (and financial disruptions) become a thing of the past. I always believed there were advantages to being a slacker. Now I have the science to prove it!


A Father’s Gift – The Best Life Lesson I Ever Learned

The most important money lessons in life often don’t come in the form of a lesson at all. Instead they come to us more like a riddle that initially does more to confuse than clarify. If we can somehow remain patient and open, every now and then when we need it most, we’re rewarded with a valuable insight.

My parents belong to “the greatest generation”. Born during the Great Depression and raised during the Dirty 30’s, they abided by the mantra of “waste not, want not”. Although I’m sure my sisters and I argued otherwise, we never wanted for anything. My parents made sure of that by always spending less than they could afford on pretty much everything i.e. houses, cars, clothes, gifts and trips.

When I was 13 or 14, our next door neighbour left a corporate job to start his own business. He apparently enjoyed some early success and wasted no time in taking a step-up in lifestyle. This included; a new in-ground swimming pool, 2 new cars, home décor upgrades and a new diamond ring for the Mrs. This was totally foreign to me. I was vaguely aware that my father’s employment success and income had increased steadily over the years. Unlike our neighbour’s though, our lifestyle hadn’t changed much.

Unable to reconcile what I was seeing I asked my father why we were being deprived of the things our neighbours clearly enjoyed so much. Without a moment’s hesitation my father replied “Because I want to remain objective about what I do for a living.”

While I had no idea what those words meant, I did seem to understand there would be no spending spree in our house anytime soon. And that was that, or so I thought. In reality, my father had planted a tiny seed in my mind that would lay dormant for many years, waiting for the perfect time to bloom.

That time came in my early 40’s. I was a banking executive unhappy in my career. A recent promotion required that I spend time in two offices that were about a two hour drive apart. To make things temporarily bearable, I rented a condo apartment at the midway point, leaving a one hour commute in either direction.

In my heart, I yearned to leave the corporate world. I was conflicted however, because I also wanted to buy a home. My years of corporate travel had worn me down and I longed to put down roots. The house I had in mind was brand new and to buy it meant I’d need a mortgage. I would also have to draw on my savings for things like a paved drive, window coverings, appliances, gardens, fences, decks, etc. etc. Buying it also meant one more thing…I’d have to stay in my job. Something didn’t feel right.

That’s when I heard my father’s words again, but now I knew exactly what they meant. Staying in a rental with no debt and money in the bank was exactly where I needed to be. It allowed me “to remain objective about what I do for a living”. Like so many poor choices, buying a home at that time would have used up precious time, energy and money. It would also have distracted me from facing a deep discordance. This was a defining moment in my life.

Within two years I resigned from the bank and started on the path that led to my calling as a Money Coach. And oh yes, along the way I’ve lived in several lovely homes.

Thanks Dad.